Monday, January 7, 2008

Prayer is not a team sport or...

...why minyans and full synagogues are as irrelevant as born-again revival tent gatherings if you don't actually believe.

No, that's not a link because the article is right here. I'm writing it here and now.

Since starting down the road to conversion I've mixed in online amongst other Jews, both born and by choice, and witnessed a wide variety of ideas, concepts, beliefs, and temperaments and personalities. From the outside any group seems very insular and homogenous for two reasons.

Firstly, if there's anything about a grouping of people to differentiate them into that group and not that group, it must have been long enough for someone to notice and that gives the appearance of it being insular to some degree. Insularity also results from the following behavior of the group.

Secondly, if you're not part of that group then it is likely you don't spend significant time within that group and hence have as much familiarity with it as you do the sights outside your car as you are driving. You might drive past the same places every day, but you drive. You don't walk and stumble over them. You see a coarse-grained picture repeatedly enough to get the coarse points down. You make inferences based on sane logic as to some of the finer points between. For instance, you see a fence between two houses and it registers that it is a picket fence and your mind can fill in the structural details most likely to be involved.

Having dove into Judaism and looked it over from a wide variety of angles I have a better understanding. Re-read that sentence. First, I said I have "a" understanding. Most emphatically I do not claim to have "the" understanding. That's G-d's own realm and He cannot tell me that which I cannot reasonably already know. Unless He has some weird purpose He doesn't act like a spiritual source does for clairvoyants. Second, I said "better". As in preferable to some previous state in time. Since it wasn't "best" it infers if only weakly that even better than that is possible. Put them together and you see that I have more ahead of me. Do I need to explain this? Well, in a world where people worry that using the word "ladies" in an Orthodox organization's output is sexist or otherwise demeaning, yes I damn well do have to explain it.

What have I learned? I have learned that Jews are much like Catholics and Protestants of today in that they are similarly torn between centralized hierarchical orthodoxy and their own personal interpretations with a great stress of lack of relevance whether real or imagined, most likely imagined, sitting on that span between.

I've never been one for formal shows of faith. When they don't come from the heart, even when they seem to be on the part of the participants to be great efforts for that purpose of G-d's, whatever it is conceived to be at the time, they are inevitably for some other reason. It may be a good one. It just isn't the one we want it to be. On the other hand, when you realize exactly the reason truthfully you're doing it and that reason is a good one, it can be a powerful thing.

Bad reason: because others expect it and you've gotten some idea that maybe it will make you a better person. You need help psychologically and by this I don't mean professional help but a deep self-analysis of your ideas and world views and paring away of your inherent bullshit. This takes honesty to you which is tantamount to honesty before G-d since when you die like when you are born, you're alone but for G-d. He knows when you're full of it and you need to get down to that with him. Trust me, he's not a sadistic bastard. He'll laugh about it and hug you spiritually. You need to stop fearing damnation and punishment.

Good reason: because others expect it and you know now that you are a better person and want to share it with other people. What makes you a better person is that you have faith in what is right and want to help others out of despair towards shining true faith of their own, but have the recognition that you cannot create it for them, only cut back any bullshit from your quarter that might obfuscate it for them. Enable faith in other words by not disabling it first.

I've seen revivals and whatnot. If you do it for the idea that somehow you need saving, well no one else will do it. I guarantee you if you want to see moshiach you need only go look in the mirror, and then accept it. G-d works through us for our betterment, and just as when you ache for someone fucked up on drugs, even He can't help you if you won't let Him.

This is the furthering of the bad in the bad reason. If you hold on to the bad idea like a talisman, it provides a security blanket against the cold hard reality that you need to be honest with you about you. After a while, you have ever harder a time trying to see outside that blanket and when the snap comes, the worse it is.

So my advice is don't worry about minyan so much as your own faith. If you are truly faithful and believe, then worry about minyan, but more for the help you provide others just by praying with them than what you get out of it. If you aren't, work on finding out why.

Me? I spent years being so afraid G-d didn't like me that I spent those years not liking me for Him. I'm still shy and embarrassed and do not wish to soil the experience of others with my self-doubts and possible insincerity. When I speak the words, I want to have their meaning to others but more importantly to me down pat, accepted, part of me.

I need time. Of course with my current job hours, I have that.

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